Sir Cedric Morris was a doubly gifted man, an accomplished, respected and successful artist and also a wonderful gardener who introduced an extraordinary range of beautiful irises. He established the East Anglian Art School at Benton End and also pursued his interest in breeding irises there. Reportedly, he would sow as many as a thousand iris seeds each year, grow them on to flowering size and select those which were especially attractive in his eyes. Most of the irises have “Benton” in their names – ‘Benton Primrose’, ‘Benton Olive’ etc.
His interest in irises was more than an amateur interest as they were offered for sale in the UK, on the continent, in America and even as far away as South Africa. Of course, fashions change and over the years many of the Benton irises were lost. Thankfully, Sarah Cook, who was head gardener at Sissinghurst Castle became interested in these irises and has spent the last twenty years researching them and tracking them down again and I think her exhibition at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015 did a great deal to reignite interest in these beautiful plants.
Sir Cedric Morris named and introduced approximately 90 irises and Sarah Cook now holds the best collection of these – and continues to search out the remaining missing plants. Part of any such plant collection is dispersal – giving plants to other gardeners who will grow them on, pass them around, and in this way ensure their survival in our gardens. A friend of Sarah’s passed on twenty rhizomes to me last year (What a gift!) and ten of these have flowered this year. In turn, I will pass them on to others to ensure they will continue to be grown and that a great gardener and his beautiful plants will be remembered.
Here are the ten which flowered in the garden this year:
Note: One of the irises is listed above as “ex Dodo Rose” because Sarah Cook received two irises from Dodo Rose but hasn’t clearly identified them as of yet – so it is a working name, one to remind her of its origins.
As an aside, there is a number of garden plants named for Sir Cedric Morris: Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’ and Papaver rhoeas ‘Cedric Morris’, Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’ and Geranium ‘Cedric Morris’, for example. The garden at Benton End is also remembered in some plant names and I grow a snowdrop called Galanthus ‘Benton Magnet’.